27 May – 20 August 2023
NATURECULTURES Chapter 2
THE GLASS CITY
Anastasia Eggers, Abelardo Gil-Fournier & Jussi Parikka, Marzia Migliora, Uriel Orlow, Gerard Ortín Castellví, Rural School of Economics, Debbie Schoone
Located on the North Sea coast between Delft, The Hague, and Hook of Holland is a region where there are no seasons and the sky glows orange at night. This is the Westland: once an agglomeration of farming villages whose mild climate and clay soils made it home to grapevines and potato fields. The Westland is now the world’s largest continuous area of glasshouses, all 2,300 hectares of them. The grapes and potatoes have given way to high-tech agribusiness and intensive cultivation, mainly of fruit, vegetables, cut flowers, and ornamental plants. The exhibition THE GLASS CITY explores the Westland through the work of eight artists. It provides insights into the relationship between agriculture and technological innovation and transformation, the balance between natural and artificial, economy and ecology, and the future of food production.
In his book Being Ecological (2018), philosopher Timothy Morton argues that climate change began with the rise of agriculture in Mesopotamia ten thousand years ago. As people settled in towns and cities, so society became detached from its non-human environment and described it as ‘nature’. Glasshouse cultivation and other forms of industrial agriculture could be seen as embodying this separation between nature and culture, in which land is partitioned off and used predominantly for monoculture. It becomes the victim of technological change and the notions of ‘progress’ inherent in capitalist production. This means that instead of its primary responsibility to produce food, and like it or not, agriculture often becomes a means of maximising profit. This creates an unequal and exploitative relationship that undermines the ecosystem.
The exhibition considers the Westland glasshouse complex as an entity that subjugates humans, machines and plants alike to a conjuncture of discipline. It provides precarious seasonal employment for migrant workers, employs drones to combat insects in the glasshouses, uses genetically modified seeds, and selectively breeds plants. In other words, the glass city is a place where time, labour, and processes are synchronized and streamlined to get the maximum number of calories or output from the minimum area of land. Is the economic goal of profit maximisation still sustainable in an energy-intensive sector that is still highly dependent on fossil fuels? The industry is also suffering from groundwater shortages, nitrogen pollution from fertilisers, and the energy crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine and other geopolitical conflicts. Can new technology stretch the boundaries of this system even further to maintain the stability of agribusiness-as-usual, or does the new ecological reality demand a change in our attitudes to food production? What is the future of the glass city?
Curated by Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk, assisted by Sergi Pera Rusca.
THE GLASS CITY has been made possible with the support of Gieskes-Strijbis Fonds, Municipality of Delft, FONDS21, Mondriaan Fund, Overvoorde Gordon-Stichting / Pauwhof Fonds, the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.